The Virginia Opera has a fine “La Traviata” on its hands. Verdi’s sad but sumptuous opera opened Saturday for two performances at George Mason University’s Center for the Arts. And while soprano Cecilia Violetta Lopez’s Violetta may have carried the show brilliantly, she had a lot of help — in a cast of fresh-sounding young voices, an excellent orchestra (members of the Richmond Symphony) led by Andrew Bisantz with a compelling mix of momentum and flexibility, and in sets that gave an impression of both lightness and elegance.
Lopez is as compelling a Violetta as I’ve seen. As the consumptive courtesan who, for the purest of reasons, is compelled to relinquish her true love, only ultimately to die in his arms, Lopez managed to infuse every gesture, even in her most consumptive paroxysms, with suggestive sexuality. Her voice, big and rich over its entire range, is remarkably agile for its size and as focused when she sings quietly as it is when she just lets it go. Her “Sempre Libera” was as convincingly radiant and joyful as her “Addio del Passato” was sad and wistful.
Tenor Rolando Sanz as her adoring lover Alfredo was at his best early on, toasting and inciting the party crowd with a virile “Libiamo.” But the sweet vocal earnestness of his adoring was undercut by a smaller-than-life physical presence that projected all the energy and sensuality of a fire hydrant — enough to make you wonder what a fireball like Violetta saw in him.
Bass Malcolm MacKenzie, stern and sonorous as Alfredo’s father, Germont, looked and sounded stiff in carrying out the task of persuading Violetta to leave Alfredo but straddled the line between disapproval and sympathy with considerable delicacy. Smaller roles and the chorus were handled with distinction.
Director Lillian Groag had a quiet quartet of white-clad, fan-waving women process ceremonially across the stage at times of impending change — angels? harbingers of doom? fates? — ambiguous and a little unsettling, which may have been the intention.
Reinthaler is a freelance writer.